I recently came across a fascinating article titled The Persistence of Beauty. Although the primary topic is classical music, the author (Andrew Balio) also touches on beauty as related to architecture, poetry and worship. His thesis is that, somehow, the concept of beauty has not been killed in the world of classical music. This situation is notable because beauty has been effectively murdered in many other areas, including art, architecture and poetry/prose.
Unless you are a recent graduate of an “institution of higher education” or are deeply involved in the elite Progressive world of philosophy or the arts, it may come as a surprise that the concept of beauty is dead. Apparently, the reason that beauty must be killed is that it is a value judgment that places one thing above another. Of course, Progressives continually place their ideological positions above those of others and then use those determinations to destroy the lives of those others. But, you see, this is just the application of “truth” (as delivered to us daily by the pagan gods of contemporary America) as opposed to that of individual human “judgement.”
A cynic might well conclude that the murder of “beauty” in the arts is primarily in the interest of talentless con-artists who wish to make a financial killing. The problem unique to classical music is that the listening public has rejected this con-game, thus forcing orchestras to continue offering up “beautiful” classical music. Here’s how the author describes the situation.
The ugly and the ridiculous in musical composition have been largely defeated in our concert halls because they have been rejected unequivocally by the human ear. When they do appear in a concert program today they are not-quite-ingeniously sandwiched in the middle of the evening, because programmers know that audiences will arrive late or leave early to avoid them. And it’s no good scorning the audience for its “philistine” appreciation of Beauty. They’ll just elect not to show up for the scorn or for anything else, either. In fact, not surprisingly, that is exactly what has happened as naturally conservative audiences abandoned their symphony orchestras.
It is with reference to the author’s brief comment on the relationship between beauty and worship that I will develop my own ideas on the current sorry state of Progressive Christianity’s theological prose. Mr. Balio quotes Roger Scruton and then adds his own thoughts.
You entered both the church and the concert hall from the world of business, laying aside your everyday concerns and preparing to be addressed by the silence. You came in an attitude of readiness, not to do something, but to receive something. In both places you were confronted with a mystery, something that happened without a real explanation, and which must be contemplated for the thing that it is. The silence is received as a preparation, a lustration, in which the audience prepares itself for an act of spiritual refreshment.
The music, like the religious mystery, draws us into it and holds us in its enchantment. It opens for us a door into a space that exists beyond our physical world, and what we hear moving in the music through that space is us. The symphony takes us on a journey through the secretive shadows and the uncertain vistas of our human condition. It touches those things of value within us, and it invites them to witness the miracle of transubstantiation wherein the dross of our daily existence, however trivial or tragic, is changed into the possibility of our salvation. “Your feelings at the end of a great classical symphony,” Scruton confirms, “have been won from you by a process which involves your deepest being.”
My point of departure is the observation that when I read theological writings by people from fifty or more years ago I regularly experience what can be called beauty. By “beauty” I don’t necessarily mean “agreement.” Rather, I mean that the author is exploring a theological issue by application of humane argumentation through which they seek to win agreement “by a process which involves your deepest being.”
The same cannot be said of more recent theological writings. I have had the misfortune to read every rationale document produced by the theologians of the PCUSA in support of same-gender marriage. I have also read numerous other examples of their writing, including immigration policy, blog posts, the state of Israel, sermons, conference talks, overtures and Confessions (among others). The last word I would use to describe these efforts is beautiful. Rather, words like turgid, derivative, bureaucratic, soulless and boring come to mind. If I had to sum it up in a single word it would be ugly.
I thus will argue that what the con-men have done to the arts is analogous to what Progressive theologians have done to theological writing. That being, turned it from an endeavor requiring the greatest effort of human striving for truth to a bureaucratic production line of pathetic ideological conformity.